Additional notes and abject nerdiness.
The way Hugo describes the waste inherent in the sewers is at the same time both right and wrong, particularly for a modern reader who doesn't know what's actually going on. Everything I pull here is from Donald Reid, Paris Sewers and Sewermen: Realities and Representations
, 1991. Sewage farming was a popular notion at the period, an idea finally put into practice in Paris in the 1870s with a test site at Gennevilliers, but possibly first articulated by Edwin Chadwick after seeing how farmers outside Edinburgh c. 1840 were using sewage outflow to fertilize the market gardens. He described this process and advocated for it in the Sanitary Commission report of 1842, more than ten years before Leroux's publication. Even Marx cited the idea in Das Kapital – by 1862, Hugo is following a crowd, not articulating anything new. However, he's also sort of wrong, or at least he gives off an impression of being wrong by completely ignoring Montfaucon.
To a modern reader, it looks as if the sewer takes all of Paris' sewage and dumps it into the Seine, thus “wasting” it as Hugo asserts. Hugo's phrasing seems to imply that he's talking about human sewage, as Paris is the conglomeration of people and thus the life of Paris is the life of the Parisians. Most human sewage went into cesspools, *not* the sewer at all. The cesspools were cleared periodically and the contents delivered to Montfaucon, where they were condensed, dried, and the residue sold as fertilizer, exactly as Hugo is saying should happen to the waste of Paris. It was sold locally, throughout France, and occasionally abroad – a shipment that had gotten wet began to decompose enroute to the West Indies in 1818 and killed half the crew.
What is most important to remember is that the sewer is public and is for public waste – the waste in the streets. Private waste, waste from houses, must be disposed of privately. It was illegal to introduce private waste into the public sewers (in the 1880s, dumping into the sewers risked a 5 franc fine for each occurrence). So as icky as all this is, you actually should not have much human waste in there, comparatively speaking (a number of cesspool cleaners dumped into the sewer rather than drive their stuff all the way out to Montfaucon or its replacement at Bondy). Not until 1892 were property owners required to hook into the main sewer system.
The sewage that is being discussed is, therefore, predominantly horse manure with a minority of human waste from illegal dumping. Moreover, much of the sand that was so dangerous and filled up the sewers actually came from above, the result of street cleaning. With sand excavated from building sites and sand spread on the roads to help the horses maintain traction, plenty washed into the sewers with the garbage and manure. I feel like this needs to be emphasised because while Parisian readers at the time knew what Hugo was saying, foreign readers, and a modern audience, are going to take his points as universal when really they apply to a different sector than they appear to.
Chapter 1Madrepore Coral
– the branchy stuff, sometimes called zigzag coral
I love how Hugo asserts that Paris has the best shit. Somehow, I think this cannot be proved, but it's kind of an awesome assertion. Paris has the best of everything, so of course it produces the best shit.
“like some grotesque alphabet of the East” - wow, that's some random orientalism, and thoroughly unnecessary
vermin pit of Benares – I believe this refers to the Nag Kuan
, or Snake Well. Edwin Greaves, in a 1909 publication
, described it as “allowed to remain in a very filthy condition” except during the annual festival during which ritual bathing takes place. This main explain the attraction the well has for snakes, if there are indeed things for them to eat and water that keeps the place moist. Mr Greaves did not like the steps down to the well at all.Tiglath Pilezer
– Assyrian king, probably founder of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, defeated the king of Judah in 740 BC and took over Babylon 11 years later. He also made major reforms to improve the efficiency of the government and the army. Nineveh was his capital, and he built a new palace on the hill of Nimrud. I have no idea what Hugo's getting at.John of Leyden
– Anabaptist leader. The Wiki article is kind of hilariously awesome, and I suspect the guy was on Hugo's mind because of Meyerbeer's opera about him, The Prophet
, which included a roller skating scene! (Seriously, quick research on this guy has turned out hilarious.) Nothing on a false moon or on false silver or fake coinage (“lune” being an alchemist's name for “silver”, I figured it worth a shot)Mokannah
– Persian self-proclaimed prophet; the reference here is almost certainly from Lalla-Rookh
: Victory's our own-- 'tis written in that Book
"Upon whose leaves none but the angels look,
"That ISLAM'S sceptre shall beneath the power
"Of her great foe fall broken in that hour
"When the moon's mighty orb before all eyes
"From NEKSHEB'S Holy Well portentously shall rise!
"Now turn and see!" --They turned, and, as he spoke,
A sudden splendor all around them broke,
And they beheld an orb, ample and bright,
Rise from the Holy Well and cast its light
Round the rich city and the plain for miles,--
Flinging such radiance o'er the gilded tiles
Of many a dome and fair-roofed imaret
As autumn suns shed round them when they set.
Ooh, in 1881, a woman in Iowa wrote in to Popular Science
to ask WTF Hugo meant with these references. I don't blame her – I'm totally lost on John of Leyden, and I have Google! (I'm going to guess it came out of the opera somehow, or else was made up to match with the Lalla-Rookh reference.)Maillotins
(wiki French only)- popular uprising in 1382, under Charles VI of Valois, due to overtaxation. In Paris, they took over the Hotel de Ville and killed the tax collected with lead mallets, from which comes the name of Maillotins. It was a nationwide uprising, but brutally repressed.
Tire-Laine – refers to thieves who take cloaks. The listing here is combining political action with petty theft as the variety of people who have made use of the sewers.
Illuminés de Morin – followers of Simon Morin
, a charismatic religious fanatic who was condemned to death by fire in 1663.
The list of murderers:
Louis XI and Tristan – the murder of Louis de Bourbon
, entirely possibly as told by Walter Scott in Quentin Durward. Hugo uses him in Notre-Dame de Paris as well.
François I and Duprat
– Duprat considered second only to Richelieu in terms of unofficial power. The deaths apparently relate to executions of those who posted subversive, protestant-sympathising pamphlets, but I'm not finding good details quickly.
Charles IX and his mother – his mother and regent was Catherine de Medici
, under whose authority the St Bartholomew's Day massacre was carried out. The murder is probably that of Jeanne d'Albret, queen of Navarre
, which didn't actually happen but was rumoured and which Dumas used in La Reine Margot.
Richelieu and Louis XIII – probably Henri de MontmorencyLouvois
– probably the Man in the Iron Mask, as Louvois is the earliest reference
Letellier – I'm guessing it's Michel Le Tellier
, Louvois' father and a major proponent of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The family was constantly involved politically, but no one else is sticking out as violent.Hébert and [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislas-Marie_Maillard]Maillard
– the massacre of prisoners
“Philosophy is the microscope of thought.” Lovely passage here, though remember that Hugo is using a broader definition of philosophy – it makes most sense in the usage of “natural philosophy”, meaning scientific exploration, rather than the way philosophy is most often defined today. It's not strictly thought but investigation of all sorts, for the archaeological references to make sense. “Judengasse” vs “ghetto” I assume is German vs. Italian.Messalina
's enemies portrayed her as a raging slut who once won a sex competition against a prostitute – 25 partners in 24 hours. According to these stories, she sometimes slipped out of the palace and went incognito to serve in a brothel. Thus, the mark of Messalina's elbow on the coats of men she should ordinarily never have touched.
giant centipedes what? There are centipedes crawling over the ruins at Thebes, yes, but 15 feet long WTF?
I am amused at his phrasing - “hussars the Pyramids had gazed at”. It both makes Bonaparte's army more awe-inspiring than the Pyramides and makes them a tiny blip in history, as if the Pyramids are gazing at them, they have gazed at many other things before and will gaze at many more in future.
Not finding Lebel, unfortunately.
The story on Marat's shroud is almost certainly false but is rather important. Marat was constantly linked to the sewers – it was rumoured among his enemies that he lived there, thus when he was removed from the Panthéon, people threw busts and other images of him into the sewers as if to symbolise “go back where you came from”. The story that his body was thrown in there is false, but it was widely believed throughout the period, largely because of the earlier rumours and the symbolic burying of him in the sewer.
Here we start to get a little weird. It was under the Second Empire that major work was done in widening and improving the existing sewers and building significant new connections. The infamous sewer tours began in 1867, as part of the Exposition, but the major work that enabled them was done by Haussman, who was as influential at rebuilding Paris underground as aboveground, and one can understand why Hugo would not want to mention him in this chapter on improvements. I think one can read between the lines here and see all of Haussman's improvement and “cleaning up” of Paris as a hypocrisy. Paris does not change its nature just because wide boulevards have pushed the working classes out to the suburbs; shit is still shit even if it flows through a sewer that looks fantastic.
Hugo pulls back to his thesis at last here, about the waste of letting manure run into the Seine instead of being used, but it feels awkward. He praised Bruneseau, who put a lot of work into motion, he ignored Parent-Duchâtelet in favour of Bruneseau, and then he goes on at length about the Haussmanian improvements as improvements, calling them hypocritical but that isn't really an economic condemnation of them. And now we finally return, almost half-heartedly, to the original thesis of waste. Why praise Bruneseau as the originator of all this sewer work if the sewer itself is a horror that should not exist in a civilised society? Hugo obviously has contradictory feelings here – he's probably one of those people who wanted the sewer closed off entirely because of the stench yet also bitched about the cesspool cleaners waking him up at night. You can't have it both ways; your filth has to go somewhere, and it's either the cesspool, where it can be retrieved and made useful (why is this never mentioned?), or the sewer, where it is pushed out so no one has to deal with it more closely.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard